Historic preservationists lobbied for years to save the North Tower of the mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building in west Oak Ridge, but an agreement that received a final signature on Tuesday clears the way for demolition work to begin there in late September or early October.
“It allows us to proceed with our cleanup activities … without delay,” said Mike Koentop, U.S. Department of Energy spokesman in the Oak Ridge Office.
However, officials plan to pay homage to the site, built during World War II to enrich uranium for atomic bombs, with a replica equipment building, viewing tower, and nearby history center, as well as a Web-based virtual museum and a $500,000 grant to buy and stabilize the dilapidated, historic Alexander Inn in central Oak Ridge.
Much of the K-25 building, located at what is now the East Tennessee Technology Park, has already been demolished. There had been a previous plan to keep the North Tower, but concerns about safety, the deteriorated condition of the building, and the cost apparently made that impractical.
“Everybody now, with their signature, is showing that they understand that saving the North End was not a cost-effective option,” Koentop said.
The last signature came from Tennessee Historical Commission Executive Director Patrick McIntyre, who signed the agreement Tuesday morning.
He signed it both as THC executive director and as an officer of the State Historic Preservation Office, said Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The other agencies that have signed the agreement are DOE and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Lockhart said it is standard operating procedure for the State Historic Preservation Office to sign these types of agreements last, after the ACHP and any other invited signatories.
The invited signatories on the K-25 or ETTP agreement are the city of Oak Ridge and the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance. They were asked to sign the agreement because they “had a stake in this,” Koentop said.
ETPA will get the Alexander Inn grant, Koentop said.
Officials are planning a Friday morning event in a conference center at ETTP to celebrate the signing of the agreement, which was drafted after a decade of discussions and could cost $17.5 million to carry out.
Koentop said the demolition of the entire K-25 Building, once the world’s largest under one roof, could be complete by the summer of 2014. UCOR, DOE’s cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge, could complete demolition work in those areas of the East Wing that aren’t contaminated with technetium-99 by September, he said.
The few units that contain technetium-99 have to be handled differently, Koentop said.
The K-25 Building once covered 44 acres, and it enriched uranium for four decades before it was shut down in the mid-1980s. The site is slowly being converted into a massive industrial park.